Every year NBA execs and other front office members spend hours upon hours combing through college basketball’s best and brightest in hopes of finding the next superstar player. Inevitably there are players who simply don’t work out at the next level despite their incredible successes in the amateur ranks. With mostly type A, alpha dogs in these board rooms, there are countless debates had regarding which player a franchise should select to be the new face of the team. NBA front offices are full of ex-players who believe they understand the game better than anyone else, and that they know exactly what to look for when scouting young talent. Of course, mistakes are made, and people end up being fired. But hey, that’s the business.
Since the first draft in 1947 there have been busts. It is understandable. Back then there was no Youtube footage, every player was not scouting as rigorously as they do today, and teams simply didn’t have the resources to know every kid from every school in the country. Today’s scouting is at an insane level. NBA teams have scouts at every high school in the country, and forget about college. The scouting departments of NBA teams might be the largest department of the franchise. It is fascinating to see how often teams make complete gaffs in the draft, but to be fair, I cannot say that I saw some of these busts coming either, but I am not a professional scout either. Today we will take a look at the 15 biggest NBA draft failures since 2000, and there are plenty to choose from.
15. Jonny Flynn – 7th overall, 2009
The 2009 draft was full of unknowns, and Jonny Flynn was one of those unknowns. He had been a productive point guard for a great Syracuse team, but it was unclear if he was the reason for the teams success. Picking Flynn was not the worst move made in the ’09 draft, but what makes it so puzzling is the pick that was made right before him. The Timberwolves held the sixth and seventh picks that year. They were a horrible team who needed help in every area of the court. The Wolves selected Spaniard Ricky Rubio with the sixth pick. Rubio was an unproven teenager who had yet to play against anything close to NBA talent, but he was a point guard.
Most experts saw the Flynn pick as a way for the Wolves to make a trade, since they obviously didn’t need two rookie point guards. But Minnesota tried to make it work with Flynn at the point spot, but of course it never worked out. Flynn ultimately was traded and his career fizzled out after only three years in the NBA.
14. Joel Embiid – 3rd overall, 2014
Joel Embiid is on the fast track up this list. He has been an NBA player for over two years now, and still has yet to see a single minute of game action. In 2014 the 76ers used the third overall pick on the promising athletic big man. The Sixers passed up on Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart in favor of Embiid, however injuries have been a constant for Joel. Shortly after his first and final season at Kansas, Embiid suffered a broken navicular bone in his foot which ruled him out for at least six months, yet the Sixers drafted him anyway. The injury ended up costing him his entire rookie season.
In June 2015, it was revealed that Joel had suffered a set back in his recovery and he would likely miss the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Ultimately he needed another surgery on his foot and he was forced to miss the entire season. So at this point, Embiid has yet to play a single moment in the NBA, however he has been paid over $9 million.
13. Jay Williams – 2nd overall, 2002
The Bulls drafted Jay Williams second overall in the 2002 draft, and they felt pretty good about it after his rookie season. Williams played well during his rookie campaign, even recording a triple double. To no fault of their own however, the Bulls ultimately regretted drafting Williams. Jay had always been a risk taker, usually to his benefit, however when he decided to take his motorcycle out for a spin during the offseason he did not benefit from this risk. Jay crashed his motorcycle and also ruined his basketball career. Williams suffered a plethora of serious injuries and was never able to get back to the NBA. The Bulls were forced to release him and move forward without their second overall draft pick.
Williams would bounce back though. He is now the face of ESPN’s College Basketball Game Day. Fortunately for Jay, he always had a great personality as well as incredibly high basketball IQ, so the transition to television was almost seamless for him.
12. Tyreke Evans – 4th overall, 2009
Tyreke Evans was on his way to superstardom after his breakout Rookie of the Year season. Since that rookie season, however, Tyreke has been battling injuries and is just trying to stay healthy enough to be on the court. He currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans, and many people believe if he can stay healthy he could help Anthony Davis lead the Pelicans to some playoff success.
The thing that puts Tyreke on this list are the players he was drafted ahead of. When the Kings selected him fourth overall in 2009, they saw something in him. They must have, because they took him over future All-Stars Jeff Teague and DeMar DeRozan. Not only did they let those players pass them by, but Steph Curry was also passed on by the Kings in 2009.
11. Derrick Williams – 2nd overall, 2011
There was some serious talent in the 2011 NBA draft, however, Derrick Williams was not it. Coming out of Arizona, Derrick was an in between type of player. He possessed good size at 6’8″, 240 pounds, but he was not strong enough to be a post player. He also had a good shot for a forward, but he was just too slow to play solid perimeter defense on the fast wing players he would see in the NBA. Williams has been in the NBA for six seasons now, and has yet to have a season with more than 12 points per game. When the Timberwolves drafted Williams second overall in 2011 they had no idea that they were passing up on some of the best two-way players in today’s NBA.
The Wolves passed on Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler in favor of Derrick, a very regrettable decision five years later. Williams did however, have a productive season last year, averaging just over nine points per game while playing in 81 games. He recently signed a new contract with the Miami Heat and is hoping to finally find a home with some stability.